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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Padraig MacGamhna

(1895-1943)

Hero of the Carlow-Killeshin area

Part 1

Source: P.MacSuibhne book 'The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. 1972.  p.68-71.


Padraig MacGamhna

Padraig Mac Gamhna


Memorial to Padraig MacGamhna
Unveiling 1954
Photo supplied by Michael Purcell Mar 2013
Top . L to R: P. Hughes, P. Purcell, Bill Bolton, Bill Rourke, Dick Dooley ...?   ....?  John Burke.
Centre: Mrs. Rice
Front: John Nolan, Miss Maher, Mrs. Malone, W. Kavanagh, Jim Rice, Margaret Purcell.

He is a hero of the Carlow-Killeshin area. There is a memorial to him in Killeshin. opposite Holy Cross Church inscribed:

I ndil-chuimhne Captaoin Padraig MacGamhna, buidhean Ceatharlocha A.P.E. a fuair bas 23 lul 1943 agus tearma priosuntachta a' chaitheamh aige mar gheall ar a dhilseacht do phoblacht na h-Eireann. Imeasg laochra Eireann go raibh a anam i bhflaitheas De.

There is a plaque to him in Upper Tullow St., Carlow where he lived for many years. It is inscribed:

In proud and loving memory of Staff-Capt. P. MacGamhna, Carlow Battalion I.R.A. who died 23 July 1943 while serving a term of imprisonment for his fidelity to the Republic of Ireland. Imeasg laochra Eireann go raihh a anam i bhflaitheas De.

Erected by his comrades 1949.


Turf cutting at Rossmore c1935. Cutting the first sod. Left -Right: Pat Kelly, Rossmore. Michael Whelan, Ardenteggle, Fr. T Burbage, P.P. Michael Dooley, Rossmore, Liam Bolton, Killogue, Padraig MacGamhna centre, Fr. E.I. Campion, C.C., Alban O'Kelly, Organiser.
Source of image: 'The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. 1972. by P. MacSuibhne.

Alec Burns wrote a fine sketch of him in Carloviana 1965. On this sketch these notes are based.

Padraig was born in August 1895 in Killeshin of John and Anne Byrne. John Gaffney was a sheep farmer of Glenmalure who married in there. They had met at Anne's cousin's place in Clonmelsh, Carlow. They had fifteen children, six of whom died in infancy. Padraig got his first schooling from Misses Gorman, Hurst and Clarke in the school at the chapel gate.

In September 1910 he began as a pupil at the Christian Brothers' School in College St. He made good progress in all subjects including Irish under Brother Gleeson. He passed Senior Grade in 1913 and then became apprenticed to Shackletons of Barrow Mills, Graigcullen. Here he worked 12 hours daily for the six days of the week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. One evening as there was no wheat he obtained leave from the miller in charge to knock off at 8 p.m. He spent the remainder of the evening at a local Sinn Fein meeting. He was promptly dismissed from the mills and was refused his indentures.

He began to organise the Trade Union Movement in Carlow and interested himself in the current politics. On 15 August 1918 after publicly reading the Sinn Fein manifesto in Carlow he was arrested and brought under heavy police escort before a military court in Portlaoise. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment in a Belfast gaol. While there he participated in a hunger strike by prisoners claiming political treatment. When one of the prisoners named Doran died after 24 days hunger strike, the authorities granted their demand and the strike was called off. On Padraig's release from prison a tumultuous welcome awaited him in Carlow and bonfires blazed on the Killeshin Hills.

He now began to organise the I.R.A. He was helped by Gearoid O Suilleabhain, professor at Knockbeg and by Eamonn Price. These two later became Adjutant-General and Director-General of the organisation respectively. Local people, Sean O Farrell, Tom O Connell, Michael Ryan, P. A. McDermot and Mick Behan joined him. About 1919 MacGamhna had to go on the run, but succeeded in keeping the movement alive in every area within 20 miles of Carlow, with the help of Edward Malone, Dunbrin, Athy and others.

Following the shooting of an R.I.C. sergeant in Carlow all the local leaders had to go on the run. They formed a Carlow Active Service Unit of which MacGamhna was Quartermaster and Edward Malone Commandant. The Unit had 11 rifles, 6 revolvers, between 50 and 60 shotguns and 1000 cartridges. Owing to faulty storage the cartridges became damp but eventually the ammunition problem was solved, and the Unit was enabled to play an active part in the cause of freedom.

Alec relates incidents, which illustrate Padraig's vision, his leadership. In April 1921 after an action with Crown forces at Ballymurphy, Borris in which M. Faye, one of the unit, was killed and several wounded, MacGamhna and others were taken prisoner. He was tried at the Curragh and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to penal servitude in Mountjoy. Here Padraig was appointed O/C by his fellow prisoners. When the treaty was signed, he was informed of his release. But he refused to go till the authorities released certain prisoners who claimed they were non-political. Padraig and his comrade Dan Bolton continued their hunger strike till the following January when the authorities yielded and Padraig and his protégés left Mountjoy together. Once more a tumultuous welcome awaited Padraig in Carlow and Killeshin.

Nominated as Labour candidate for the second Dail he won the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency with an unprecedented majority. However his career in the Dail was brief as he resigned his seat refusing to take the Oath of Allegiance. Back in civil life his zeal for the uplift of his fellowman was once more shown. An ardent Trade Unionist he had started the Carlow I. T. & G. W. Union in 1917 at a meeting in the town hall. The first office of the branch was at T O'Rourke's in Dublin St. Padraig was branch chairman for 24 years, though Pat Comerford was its first chief. Padraig was chairman in 1918 and led the general one-day strike for the release of political prisoners. He joined the Carlow deputation that went to Belgium to press Carlow's claim for a beet factory, and it is said his influence was considerable.

He was keenly interested from his earliest years in Irish Industrial Development. For 30 years he canvassed at all levels for the development of the South Leinster coalfields. These included, he claimed, the coalfields around his Killeshin home. From 1913 he had held board meetings to stimulate interest in these coalfields. In 1925 Laois County Council workmen found a seam of coal at Rossmore. In 1926 Padraig induced John Reid, an engineer from Northern Ireland, to open up old workings. Several local farmers including Michael Whelan and Joe Toole gave voluntary help. During the emergency, government help came in a small way. Thanks to Padraig's perseverance the Killeshin hills became a hive of industry, and great prosperity came to many of his former schoolmates. In Graigue he launched a Sinn Fein Club and got the name changed to Graigcullen in memory of Fr. Hugh Cullen. Graigcullen Corn and Coal Co. were the first to use the new name.

In 1942 local farmers refused to take for con-acre certain disputed lands at Crossleigh. On 25 February 1943 twelve members of Killeshin Land Club led by Padraig MacGamhna and Bill Bolton ploughed the disputed lands. They were arrested and convicted at a special criminal court and each sentenced to six months imprisonment. The sentence was not to be enforced if they undertook to keep the peace for two years. They refused. At Mountjoy the governor was Sean Kavanagh, who had been a fellow-prisoner with Padraig in former times. At the prisoners' request he improved the standard of living for them. Meantime, Padraig fell ill and was transferred to the Mater Hospital and became a patient of Surgeon Butler of Myshall. Padraig requested to be transferred to Stevens' Hospital. He was probably pleased that his Garda there was Joe Cummins of Pollerton Road, Carlow, R.I.P. But Padraig's mortal life was ending. He died 23 July 1943.

On Saturday 24 July his remains accompanied by chief mourners, his eleven fellow-prisoners together with Governor Sean Kavanagh arrived in Carlow where they were met by a huge concourse. A guard of honour of Irish National Foresters was present. The coffin draped with tricolour passed through a hushed town of shuttered shops. Carlow people knew that the town's one time chief citizen - he had been chairman of the Urban Council - was passing to his last resting-place in his own Killeshin.

At Holy Cross Church his remains were received by Fr. IE. I. Campion P.P., Kill, Fr. W. Fanning P.P., Leighlin, Fr. P. MacSuibhne, rector, Knockbeg. Next morning Fr. Campion said Requiem Mass. Slowly and reverently Padraig was laid to rest in the land he loved. His charity extended to everyone. As agent of an oil company he travelled all over the country and never passed a pedestrian. He carried strong pieces of cord in case a cyclist needed a lift. His greatest joy -was to help others. He did so cheerfully for he carried the sunshine of Heaven in his soul. Our town, our parish, our nation was the poorer by the passing of a crusader who steered through life by the Faith that was in him.

Source: Source: P.MacSuibhne book 'The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. 1972. p.68-71.


Padraig MacGamhna
(C.A. 17-8-84)

A recent article by Alec Burns on the above brought back a flood of memories. I was privileged to have come to Carlow in time to have known this wonderful character during the last three years of his life. He was all that Alec claims and lots more. As a member of Co. Carlow Vocational Education Committee he was entitled to attend meetings of Carlow Technical School Students’ Union, or, to give it its correct title “Carlow Joint Vocational Education Committee and Technical Students’ Union”.

He was chairman during the years just prior to his death and, to use a nautical phrase ‘he ran a tight ship’. Under his wise guidance the school ran many functions including monthly ceilidhe, annual outings, dances and prize givings. He insisted on being ‘on the door’ of all pay activities and, as the saying goes, “he wouldn’t let his mother in without paying”.

I can vouch for the fact that he refused to let the Chief Inspector of the Department of Education in to one of the dances unless he paid his ‘half dollar’ (2/6 — 12½p) like everyone else. His integrity was legencdxary and he insisted in going over the accounts until every penny was accounted for. Padraig had no time for gate crashers. I have never known him to drink or smoke but he, nevertheless, was always ready to stand his round and he carried a 20 pack of cigarettes at all times which he distributed freely but never accepted one in return. Needless to say, he carried “Sweet Afton” cigarettes only.

These were manufactured by Carrolls of Dundalk, the only wholly Irish firm at the time. I don’t think he was a fluent Irish speaker, at least I never heard him speak the language, but he was always ready to throw his considerable weight (about 20 stone) into every Irish Cultural movement in town. He had little time for hypocrites and was never slow to ‘put his money where his mouth was’. It is said that he received a small allowance from the British government but refused to cash the postal orders because they were printed in English. With the result, so the story goes, that several hundreds of un-cashed P.O.s were found amongst his effects after his death.

Source: "Memories of a Blow In" by Pat O' Mahony. Transcribed by J.J. Woods 2009


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